When we think of collegiate athletics, we conjure up phrases such as “for the love of the game” “molding girls and boys into men and women” and “passion over professionalism.” However, this season has been vastly different.

Overshadowed — appropriately — by our current political and geopolitical climate, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is faced with more scrutiny than ever, and deservedly so. The days of a scholarships and free meals for high-level athletes being enough are over, and at some point, administrators are going to have to make wide-scale changes.

Make no mistake about it, these high-level programs are businesses, and typically the most important employees at businesses get paid.

Some may say that the most important employees within athletic departments are either athletic directors or coaches … that may be true … but are they being fairly compensated? Let’s take a look at some annual salaries of some prestigious coaches and ADs:

Nick Saban, coach of Alabama football, $11.2 million annually (they play 12-13 games per year).

Mike Krzyewski (yes I googled the spelling), coach of Duke University men's basketball, $8.9 million annually.

David Williams, Vanderbilt athletic director, $3.3 million annually … great academic school, but when was the last time Vanderbilt was any good at football/basketball?

I certainly don’t mean to disregard women’s teams or other sports during this rant, but they simply don’t bring in the $$ that basketball and, especially football, do for these universities.

According to Forbes.com, the University of Alabama football team generated $95,132,301 in revenue in one season. One season. If you don’t want to call an entity that generates essentially $100 million a year a “business” then I have some waterfront property in Missouri that I’d love to sell you.

Duke men's basketball generates approximately $27 million per year for the university. In a free-market system — like most industries in America — Duke players would be worth, on average, $1.3 million. Instead, this money goes in the pockets of coaches, administrators and into facilities that are even more elaborate and luxurious than those of professional sports teams.

Examples:

Clemson recently completed a $55 million renovation for their athletic facility that includes: a bowling alley, a nap room, laser tag and even an indoor slide.

Ohio State has a waterfall in its locker room.

Auburn recently purchased a 190-by-57-foot video screen in their stadium that cost an estimated $14 million.

Some will say that these endeavors support the student-athletes. They attract the athletes … to, in turn, make even more revenue for the schools.

According to a study done by the NCAA, the likelihood of a Division I college athlete — in football or basketball — making the professional ranks is 1.2 percent (this from NCAA.com). Many times these young people are swayed to focus primarily on athletics instead of academics (hmmm … I wonder why — $$$$$$$) and then the student-athletes think they are good enough to make the professional ranks and leave the school without receiving any type of degree.

The hypocrisy of the NCAA is concerning. They sell jerseys, shirts, shorts, blankets, pillows and everything else with player’s numbers and “likeness” on them. Just until recently, you could go on NCAA.com and search for college athletes like Marvin Bagley and Saquon Barkley, and their jersey would pop up at $60 per item. Then the NCAA has the gall to penalize players — and families of players — for acts like this:

Miles Bridges is a star player for Michigan State basketball. He comes from Flint, Mich. … if that small city rings a bell, it’s the place where there hasn’t been clean drinking water since 2014. When you search “Miles Bridges” on Google … quickly links to FBI probes regarding “illegal payments to player and/or family.” This young man is 19 years old … and this is from the FBI document regarding the “offense” that is placed on the teenager, mother and school:

• “Redwood Lodge. Lunch with/Miles Bridges' parents. $70.05.”

Michigan State took his mother to lunch to ensure that her son would be placed in the best position to succeed as a student and basketball player at Michigan State … now the poor young man's reputation is besmirched due to the high-and-mighty NCAA that values integrity over everything else … give me a break.

OK … rant is over.

I don’t have a concrete solution for this problem, but there is a plethora of options on how to compensate players for the work they do for their schools. Stipends … or a percentage of income over a specific quota going into a post-career fund … or a percentage of revenue for jerseys or apparel that have their number on them. This all would entice athletes to stay in school longer and receive degrees that would put them in position to make money after their careers, or even more importantly, in the case that their athletic careers never come to fruition.

While this ominous cloud hangs over college sports until someone with some semblance of sense or integrity decides to make a change … let’s talk some men's basketball tourney.

Championship favorites

Arizona

It’s only right that we begin with the team that was the primary focus of the aforementioned FBI probe. Arizona coach Sean Miller allegedly was caught on wiretap agreeing to pay $100,000 to ensure that star freshman Deandre Ayton signed with the Wildcats. Miller vehemently denied such discussions, and Arizona hasn’t lost since. Ayton is the most dominant player in college basketball, and has drawn comparisons to David Robinson and Patrick Ewing. While Arizona has a history of inconsistent play in the tournament, Ayton is the type of player who could carry a team to a championship.

Duke

The most talented and polarizing team in the tournament. The Duke Blue Devils have had games where they look unbeatable, and then others where Grayson Allen loses control of his body and trips (or hip-checks) opposing players. Between Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval, Duke is loaded with NBA talent. However, their overall inexperience could prove deadly. Combine that with a difficult path to the Final Four (Michigan State, Kansas) and we could see Grayson Allen crying his way off the floor for a final time.

Kansas

The Jayhawks have benefited from playing their more important games in their backyard. They played their conference tournament in Kansas City, and will make stops in Wichita and Omaha on their way to the Final Four. The Jayhawks will have an interesting first-round matchup against Ivy League Champion Penn. With a heavy reliance on 3-pointers and a mediocre defense, could this be the year a 16 seed upsets a No. 1 seed?

Michigan

The Wolverines may be the hottest team in the tournament. Led by German big man Moritz Wagner, Michigan spreads the floor and moves the ball beautifully. Coach John Beilein is making his case for best coach in the country, and it’s a credit to his ability to employ various schemes and styles to fit his personnel and attack the opposition. Michigan’s achilles' heel this season has been its free-throw shooting. The Wolverines are shooting 65.8 percent from the free-throw stripe this season (326th in the nation), and could be the difference in winning or losing a tight tournament game.

Michigan State

Controversy has surrounded Michigan State University this season. The school president resigned and the athletic director retired following the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse scandal earlier in the year. Coach Tom Izzo has denied any knowledge of Nassar’s actions and emphasized that he will coach the Spartans for the foreseeable future. Led by Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the country and suffocates opposing offenses with its tenacious man-to-man defense. If this team plays up to its potential, they are as likely as any to cut down the nets in San Antonio.

North Carolina

The defending national champions will attempt to make their their straight Final Four. While this edition of the Tar Heels doesn’t include any future NBA stars, they have smart, tough, experienced players like Luke Maye, Joel Berry and Theo Pinson who have already played on the biggest of stages. If Berry gets into foul trouble, the Tar Heels could run into some problems, as they lack depth at the point-guard position.

Purdue

The Boilermakers were a top-five team most of the year, until they were hit by the injury bug in February. Now fully healthy, this team fields an elite offense and size (Isaac Haas primarily) that opposing teams will struggle to match. Purdue should make it to the Elite Eight, where a matchup against Villanova will give the country a look at the best two offenses in college basketball.

Villanova

Villanova has been, somewhat under the radar, the best program in college basketball the past five years. Jay Wright has established himself as one of the best coaches in the country, and also is vying for the title of best-dressed coach. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are future NBA players and when this team is firing on all cylinders, they are almost impossible to beat.

Virginia

Many casual basketball fans will say that Virginia’s slow-paced offense and “pack-line” defense is boring basketball. Coach Tony Bennett doesn’t care. That “boring” basketball led to the ACC regular-season and tournament championship. This Cavalier team simply doesn’t make mistakes, and makes you earn every basket on the other end. Unfortunately for Virginia, star freshman Deandre Hunter broke his wrist last week and is out for the season. An injury to such an athletic, versatile player will make a trip to San Antonio much more difficult for Virginia, but they still have as good of a chance to win as anyone.

Cinderellas

Davidson

Davidson is entering the tournament as one of the hottest teams in college basketball, and is a popular pick to upset Kentucky in the first round. Personally, I think Kentucky’s athleticism will pose problems for Davidson, but highly-skilled Peyton Aldridge — and one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation — certainly will go down swinging.

Loyola-Chicago

Loyola basketball is known for breaking the “gentleman’s agreement” (not playing more than three black players at any given time) and ushering in a new era of racial equality in the early 1960s. Today, the Ramblers employ one of the best defensive teams in the country, and feature a backcourt of Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson, who have played together since third grade. They have a winnable first-round game against Miami, and could capture the hearts of America on a run to the Sweet 16.

South Dakota State

It recently was announced that during the opening round of the tournament, live animal mascots will be banned from the arenas. So if we want to get our eyes on the Jackrabbit of South Dakota State, we need to root for them to defeat Ohio State in their opening round game. Led by Mike Daum, one of the best players in the country (averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds per game), the Jackrabbits have a real chance to pull the upset and have a petrified rabbit running around a basketball stadium all weekend.

New Mexico State

The Aggies of New Mexico State have an impressive record of 29-5 coming into the tournament, and have a real shot at knocking off Clemson in their first round game. With wins over Miami, Illinois and Davidson, New Mexico State has proven its ability to play with bigger, faster opponents. One point that must be brought up … if jackrabbits are banned from the arena, then the Aggie mascot (a cowboy equipped with two pistols) needs to be banned as well … its only right.

First-round games to watch

Kentucky versus Davidson, Virginia Tech versus Alabama, Miami versus Loyola, Wichita State versus Marshall, Ohio State versus South Dakota State, New Mexico State versus Clemson, Providence versus Texas A&M, Rhode Island versus Oklahoma, Auburn versus Charleston and Michigan State versus Bucknell.

Jameson Davis graduated from Camden Hills Regional High School in 2005. He helped the Windjammers win state Class B basketball championships in 2002 and 2005. He graduated from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and recently received his masters in business administration. He can be reached by email at jameson.davis4@gmail.com.